This will be, perhaps, the least objective review of a book ever to appear on BGB. 99 Problems: Essays on Running and Writing is written by Ben Tanzer, a friend of the bog and of mine. That’s usually not a big deal, I’ve reviewed books by by people that I know before. Any chance of an objective review, however, was nixed when I got name checked in the essay What I Talk About When I Talk About Bad Television Movies. That Tanzer fellow, he’s alright.
What’s interesting about this collection is that Tanzer went all New School for its release. It is only available in e-book format (you can buy it here). He’s also using the “Radiohead” pay model. You pay want you want. If you want to check it out for free, go ahead. I’m sure that the author would love payment, but I think that he’d be happy if you just read it.
For this collection, Tanzer drew inspiration from novelist Haruki Murakami’s ode to running, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. (Do you see what he did there with the essay wherein I get name checked? Nice.) The collection draws it’s name from the Jay-Z song:
“99 Problems” by Jay-Z comes on as I coast down the last half-block towards home, and I can’t help but smile. This is a good way to finish a run. So is catching a big fat snowflake on my tongue on my first attempt, Karate Kid style.
An of course, he’s talking about the original Karate Kid for you youngsters out there. What I enjoy most about Tanzer’s writing are the nods to high and low culture (and mostly the “low culture” of shared pop culture).
The essays were all designed around a central theme. Ben decided to write a series of essays about long runs that he’s taken while traveling for work or with his family. The essays highlight the creative outlet that running can provide. Tanzer reflects on the projects that he’s working and the various thoughts that pop in and out of his head while running. If you’ve ever been a long runner, you know the luxury of time alone with your thoughts that it can provide. If you’ve never been a distance runner, Tanzer may well inspire you to give it a try.
99 Problems is a gem of a book. You’ll learn a lot about the author and his creative processes, which highlights the level of introspection that can come from time alone pounding the pavement. Of course, my favorite essay is about a run that Tanzer takes in Atlanta. I met up with Ben and some literary scenesters that he assembled at Twain’s Tavern after the run, and we talked over beers about books and bad TV. Here’s how Ben characterizes the book scene in Atlanta: